The Supreme Court has refused to block the state’s so-called ‘heartbeat bill’, which bans terminations after six weeks, even in cases of rape or incest
The US Supreme Court has effectively overturned Roe v Wade by voting to allow Texas’ near-total abortion ban to go ahead. The ban came into effect yesterday (September 1) after Justices failed to respond to abortion providers’ request to block the bill, which was signed into law in May. Today (September 2), they ruled 5-4 against stopping the ban.
The state’s so-called ‘heartbeat bill’ (also known as Senate Bill 8) bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – once a foetal heartbeat is detected – even in cases of rape or incest. At six weeks, many women don’t even realise they’re pregnant, meaning the decision of whether to have an abortion will be taken away from them before they’ve even had a chance to comprehend it.
Pro-choice activists have labelled the ban unconsitutional, but the Supreme Court’s majority said their decision was “not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas’ law”, and added that legal challenges could still go ahead.
In a statement, US president Joe Biden concurred that the law “blatantly violates the constitutional right established under Roe v Wade” – the historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling that brought legal abortion care to the US – and will “significantly impair women’s access to the health care they need, particularly for communities of colour and individuals with low incomes”.
The bill also empowers citizens to sue anyone they believe is procuring or helping someone procure an abortion, with those who win their case able to claim $10,000. Abortion providers and reproductive rights groups have said this “places a bounty on people who provide or aid abortions”.
Speaking at a virtual press conference yesterday, Adriana Piñon, the senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Texas, said “the serious threat of harassing vigilante lawsuits against abortion providers has stopped nearly all abortion in the state”. Whistleblower sites have already been set up to encourage people to share information about anyone breaking the law – however, last week (August 25), activists flooded one such site with Shrek porn to stop actual tips being posted.
Texans have taken to the streets at the state capitol to protest SB8.— ACLU (@ACLU) September 1, 2021
We've got the Constitution on our side. We've got the people. And we believe that we will win. pic.twitter.com/PN820r7cfS
“Today marks a dark moment in Texas history,” continued Piñon. “As a woman who was born and raised in Texas, I am not only saddened, I am outraged. We deserve the right to make decisions about our lives, our families, and our futures. Our fight will not end today. We’ll keep doing everything in our power to stop this law and protect Texans’ fundamental rights.”
Amy Hagstrom Miller, the CEO of feminist healthcare company Whole Woman’s Health and reproductive rights non-profit Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, revealed what the final hours of legal abortion care in Texas were like. “Whole Woman’s Health had staff and physicians providing abortions until 11:56PM,” she said. “Our waiting rooms were filled with patients and their loved ones in all four of our clinics. We had a physician who has worked with us for decades in tears as he tried to complete the abortions for all the folks who were in our Fort Worth waiting room. Keep in mind the anti-abortion protesters were outside the entire time, from the moment we opened at 8AM until we closed at midnight.”
Miller explained that anti-abortion protesters outside the Fort Worth clinic called the police twice “to try to find some law we were breaking”. “Of course we weren’t breaking any laws,” she continued. “We were responding to our community and trying to care for the people who deserve access to safe abortion care – the same people who deserve that access today, as they did yesterday.”
“Our fight will not end today. We’ll keep doing everything in our power to stop this law and protect Texans’ fundamental rights” – Adriana Piñon, ACLU
Also speaking at the conference was Vanessa Rodriguez, the call centre manager of Planned Parenthood’s Greater Texas branch, who said yesterday was “a very difficult day for all of us”. “It’s important to point out that Texas already faced some of the most challenging barries to abortion in the country,” she stated. “It’s often my team who has to explain to people what hoops they have to jump through, no matter how desperate or afraid they might be. And this is all prior to Senate Bill 8 going into effect.”
Many Texans right now have to travel hundreds of miles to get to their closes abortion facility; under the Senate Bill 8 restriction, many will not be able to find a way to travel from their communities, take time off work, and make childcare plans that allow them to leave. For many people, it will simply be insurmountable.”
The law will have particularly devastating impacts for pregnant teenagers, those on a low-income, undocumented migrants, and people of colour. According to The New York Times, approximately 70 per cent of abortions in Texas in 2019 were provided to women of colour.
As of today, abortion is no longer accessible for most Texans because of S.B. 8, a new law that just went into effect. We’re doing everything we can to change this. Learn more and find out what you can do: https://t.co/nxer6Kmz7zpic.twitter.com/DPxvbhyCsh— Planned Parenthood (@PPFA) September 1, 2021
Protesters took to the streets today to demonstrate against the Supreme Court’s decision, as well as the ban itself. Some dressed as handmaids (in red capes and white bonnets) from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women are enslaved and forced to repopulate the earth by having sex with their oppressors. Others carried signs that read ‘Bans off our bodies’, ‘Protect safe, legal abortion’, and ‘Abortion is sacred. My body is my own’, and joined in chants of “I believe that we will win”.
“It’s heartbreaking to tell someone that they don’t have a choice,” said Rodriguez. “People are scared and they look to us for answers. My heart is broken that we have to tell them that Texas politicians are taking away their right to make the decision – the decision that they feel is the right one for themselves and their families. But we are dedicated to helping people no matter what – we have prepared additional resources and support for patients, and we will continue to support and educate our communities and each other along the way.”
You can help fight Texas’ unconstitutional abortion ban by donating to ACLU here and Planned Parenthood Greater Texas here. For women in the US in need of an abortion, you can find a provider here.